Parting Glances

By |2005-02-10T09:00:00-05:00February 10th, 2005|Uncategorized|

With the opening slice of the surgeon’s scalpel, I felt a momentary twinge between my solar plexus and the seat of my pants. I also realized what was in store for the audience during the next 20 minutes.
I breathed deeply — sighed, “Well, here goes” — and crossed my legs in self-defense. I also decided it would be in my own best interest (and perhaps the Main Art Theater’s) to finish my overly buttered popcorn later.
The deep breaths helped. But a few of my fellow cowardly lions — realizing that it would be a lost cause to keep their eyes shut tightly — left, hastening outside for fresh air or a reassuring spot check of the family jewels in the men’s room.
Triangle staff member Stephanie Newman, producer of the 2005 Reel Pride Festival, sat resolutely behind me. (She said later she watches History Channel health program operations regularly.) “No big deal,” she whispered and winked. “After all: it’s only a penis.” “Fortunately not mine,” I squirmed.
“You’re used to this, Charles,” I reassured myself. “You’ve seen hundreds of operations as a Harper Hospital OR Tech. You’ve prepped patients, scrubbed, gowned, passed instruments in Cystoscopy and OB-GYN, and the sight of blood doesn’t bother you. Man; you’re use to it, even though you haven’t played Mary Lou MASH for years.”
(I do get queasy when blood’s drawn. Five consecutive jabs is my, all-time, one-sitting record. The nurse/sadist couldn’t find a willing vein. Jab. Jab. Jab. Jab. Jab. Silly me: I fainted.)
Now, cool as a cucumber, I watch the initial slicing: an arrow shape, three inches down, two inches across. As the incision widens, the surgeon dabs the pubic area with sterile gauze (sponges in OR jargon) and explains in English as a Second Language what he’s doing to the helplessly limp, camera shy, “pweenis” before him.
That brown sausage is being turned in upon itself by a world-famous Thai doctor in a Thai hospital. It’s being slowly — and one might say lovingly — transformed into a vagina, with clitoris and inner and outer labia. Once the swelling goes down (six months later) this turncoat organ will gives its proud owner a wallop of an orgasm . . . .
In actual time this three-hour operation was performed on 40-year-old Derwin Fields; and the on-screen surgery, with nontechnical commentary, was excerpted for use in, “The Cookie Project: One Man’s/Woman’s Transformation,” a 2003 one-hour documentary directed by Stephanie Wynne.
The film proved to be a real gender/bender for me, someone who knows little about transgender issues both pre- and post- operative, but who feels it’s important for the LGBT community to be well informed. Derwin’s story certainly offers many thought-provoking conundrums to ponder.
Consider: Derwin, who’s bona fide straight, is nonetheless often nelly, swishy, stereotypically gay. He’s also the father of two grown-up intelligent and supportive children, and has served with distinction as a butch U.S. Marine. While it may seem to some a compromise of two orientations, all his life he’s been trapped in a body he’s just mentally out of sync with.
After the operation, Derwin — now Cookie — is seen as a vivacious, fun-loving “200 % lesbian.” Her bisexual lover, Madeline, says Cookie makes love “more like a man” than a lesbian, but practice makes perfect. (My rule of thumb.)
Nearing the film’s ending, Cookie joyfully lifts her skirt to display her treasure for everybody to take a peek at. I’m no one to judge: but it looks like a real work of art to me. (If you like Harlem Renaissance honey pots.)

About the Author:

Charles Alexander